The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Visit to England as an Evangelist in 1849
After my severe illness my strength returned but slowly. I resumed my labors as pastor and professor too soon to favor a rapid return of strength. For this reason I remained at home through the winter of 1847 and '48, not feeling able to perform the labors of an evangelist abroad. Meanwhile I had been repeatedly written to and urged to visit England and labor for the promotion of revivals, in that country; and in the autumn of 1849 my wife and myself embarked for England, leaving our family in the charge of my eldest daughter. After a stormy passage in the steamer Hermon we arrived at Southampton early in November. There we met the pastor of the church in Houghton, Huntingdonshire, a village situated midway between the market towns of Huntington and Saint Ives. A Mr. Potto Brown, a very benevolent man, of whom I shall have occasion to speak frequently, had sent Mr. James Harcourt, his pastor, to meet us at Southampton. We arrived in Southampton on Sunday morning. We spent the Sabbath there, and on Monday passed through London by rail to Mr. Brown's, in Houghton.
Mr. Potto Brown was by parentage and education a Quaker. He and a partner were engaged in the milling business, and belonged to a congregation of Independents in Saint Ives. Of course they were dissenters. They became greatly affected with seeing the state of things in their neighborhood around about. The Church, as it is called in England, seemed to them to be effecting very little for the salvation of souls. There were no schools outside of the church schools for the education of the masses of the poor, and the mass of the people were greatly neglected. After much prayer and consultation with each other, they agreed to adopt measures for the education of the masses of children in the village where they lived, and in the villages around them, and to extend this influence as far as they could. They also agreed to apply their means to the best advantage in establishing worship, and in building up churches independent of the Establishment. They began this work at Houghton, a village, as I have said, midway between Saint Ives and Huntington. Not long after this enterprise was commenced, Brother Brown's partner died. His wife, I believe, had died before him; and his partner committed his family, consisting of several sons and daughters, to the fraternal care of Brother Brown, who committed them to the training of a judicious widow lady in a neighboring village. Brother Brown's partner at his death begged him not to neglect the work which they had projected, but to pursue it with vigor and singleness of eye.
Brother Brown's heart was in the work. His partner left a large property to his children. Brother Brown himself had but two children, and they were sons. He was a man of simple habits, and expended but little money upon himself or his family. He employed a school teacher in the village where he resided, and built a chapel there for public worship. They called a man to labor there as a minister who had hyper-Calvinistic views, and consequently he labored year after year with no results that at all met the views of Brother Brown. Brother Brown had frequent conversations with his minister about the want of good results. He was paying his salary, and laying out his money in various ways to promote religion by means of Sabbath Schools, and teachers, and laborers, but few or none were converted. Brother Brown spread this thing before his minister so frequently that he finally replied: "Mr. Brown, am I God, that I can convert souls? I preach to them the Gospel, and God does not convert them: am I to blame?" Brother Brown replied: "Whether you are God or no God, we must have conversions. The people must be converted." So he dismissed this minister and employed another, the Rev. James Harcourt. Mr. Harcourt is an open-communion Baptist. He is a talented man, a rousing preacher, and an earnest laborer for souls. Under Brother Harcourt's preaching they soon began to have conversions, and the work went on hopefully. Their little church at their little chapel increased in numbers and in faith, and the work spread gradually, and the little leaven was extending its influence perceptibly but gradually on every side.
They soon extended their operations to neighboring villages with good results. But still they did not know how to promote revivals of religion. The children of his partner, who had been left under his charge, had grown up to be young men and women, and were not converted. There were three daughters and three sons, a fine family, with a plenty of property, but they were unconverted. Mr. Brown had a large number of very interesting and influential friends in that county, for whose salvation he felt a very deep interest. He was also very anxious about this Goodman family--for that was the name of his partner--that they might be converted. For the education of his sons he had employed a teacher in his family, and a considerable number of young men of respectable families from neighboring towns had studied with his sons. This little family school, to which the young men who were sons of his friends in various parts of the county had been invited, had created a strong bond of interest between Brother Brown and these families. Brother Harcourt's labors, for some reason, did not reach these families, nor the Goodman family.
He was successful among the poorer and lower classes, was zealous and devoted, and preached the Gospel. As Mr. Brown said, "He was a powerful minister of Jesus Christ." But still he wanted experience to reach the class of persons that Mr. Brown had more particularly on his own heart. He and Brother Harcourt, his minister, frequently talked the matter over, and inquired how they could reach that class of persons and draw them to Christ. Brother Harcourt said that he had done all that he could, and that something else must be done or he did not see that this class of persons would be reached at all.
Brother Harcourt had read my revival lectures, which had been extensively circulated in England, and he finally suggested to Brother Brown the propriety of writing to me to see if I would not visit England and come to that place. This led to my receiving a very earnest request from Mr. Brown to visit them. Brother Brown conversed with many people, and with some of the ministers, which led to my receiving divers letters of pressing invitation to visit England.
At first these letters made but little impression upon me, for I did not see how I could go to England. Circumstances, however, transpired that led me to see that the way was open for me to leave this place, at least for a season; and as I have said, in the fall of 1849 my wife and myself went to England. When we arrived there and had rested a few days, I began my labors in their village chapel. I soon found that Brother Brown was altogether a remarkable man. Brought up a Quaker he was entirely catholic in his views. He had not for a long time had any particular intercourse with them as a denomination, but had been laboring in an independent way directly for the salvation of the people around him. He had wealth, and his property was constantly and rapidly increasing. His history has reminded me many times of the proverb: "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth: there is that withholdeth more than is meet, which tendeth to poverty." For religious purposes he would spend his money like a prince. The more he spent, the more he had to spend.
I have said we were the guests of Brother Potto Brown. While we were there he threw his house open morning, noon, and evening, and invited his friends far and near to come and pay him a visit. They came in great numbers, so that his table was surrounded nearly every meal with divers persons who had been invited in that I might have conversation with them, and that they might attend our meetings. A revival immediately commenced, and spread among the people. The Goodman family were soon interested in religion, and converted to Christ. The work spread among those that came for conversation and to attend meetings from the neighboring villages round about. They heard and gladly received the Word. And so extensive and thorough was the work among Brother Brown's particular friends, whose conversion he had been longing and praying for, that before I left there he said that every one of them was converted--that the Lord had not left one of them out for whom he had felt anxiety, and for whose conversion he had been praying.
The conversion of this large number of persons scattered over the county, made a very favorable impression where they were known. The house of worship at Houghton was small, but it was packed to its utmost capacity at every meeting, and the devotedness and engagedness of Brother Brown and his wife were most interesting and affecting. There seemed to be no bounds to their hospitality. Their schoolmaster was a religious man, and would run in every day, and almost every meal, and sit down with us to enjoy the conversation. Gentlemen would come in from neighboring towns, from a distance of many miles, early enough to be there at breakfast. The young men who had been educated with his sons, were invited and came, and I believe every one of them was converted. Thus Brother Brown's largest desires in regard to them were fulfilled, and very much more among the masses was done than he had expected. Brother Harcourt had at that time several preaching places beside Houghton in the neighboring villages round about. They were endeavoring to establish Sabbath Schools for dissenters and among the poor, and to get up prayer meetings and preaching services, at three or more places, in villages not far distant from Houghton. The savor of this work at Houghton continued for years. Mr. Harcourt informed me that he preached in a praying atmosphere, and with a melting state of feeling around him as long as he remained in Houghton. I shall have occasion in another place to speak of his leaving Houghton for another field of labor, his great success in that field, and his call to London, where I finally found him on my second visit to England.
I did not remain long in Houghton at this time--several weeks, however. Among the brethren who had written urging me to come to England was a Mr. Roe, a Baptist minister of Birmingham. As soon as he was informed that I was in England, he came to Houghton and spent several days, attending the meetings and witnessing the results.
I said we arrived in Houghton early in November. About the middle of December we left Houghton and went to Birmingham to labor in the congregation of Brother Roe. Here, soon after our arrival, we were introduced to the Rev. John Angell James, who was the principal dissenting minister in Birmingham. He was a good and a great man, and wielded a very extensive influence in that city, and indeed throughout England. When my revival lectures were first published in England, Brother James wrote an introduction to them, highly commending them. They were circulated very extensively among the dissenters. Ministers read them in their lecture rooms to their churches and commented upon them; and throughout England, and Scotland, and Wales there was quite an extensive religious movement at that time. But when I arrived in Birmingham, I was informed that after Brother James had publicly recommended them in meetings of ministers, and by his pen, he had been informed by men of a certain stamp on this side of the Atlantic, that those revivals that had occurred, under my ministry especially, had turned out very disastrously; and that to such an extent had these representations been made to him that he had taken back what he had said publicly in favor of those revival lectures. However, when he saw me in Birmingham he called the Independent ministers in Birmingham to a breakfast at his house, and requested me to attend. This is the common way of doing things in England.
When we assembled at his house, after breakfast was concluded, he said to his ministerial brethren, that he had been impressed that they were falling greatly short of accomplishing the end of their ministry. That they were too well satisfied to have the people attend meeting, pay the minister's salary, keep up the Sabbath School, and with an outward prosperity, while the conversions in most of the churches were very few, and after all the people were going to destruction. I was told by Brother Roe, of whom I have spoken, and with whom I was at that time commencing my labors, that there were in Mr. James' own congregation not less than fifteen hundred impenitent sinners. At the breakfast at Mr. James' he expressed himself very warmly, and said that something must be done. Finally the ministers agreed upon holding meetings, as soon as I could comply with their request alternately in the different Independent churches, preaching around in a circle among them. But for some weeks I confined my labors to Mr. Roe's congregation, and there was a powerful revival. It was a state of things that they had never seen. The revival swept through the congregation with great power, and a very large proportion of the impenitent in the congregation were turned to Christ.
Brother Roe entered heart and soul into the work. I found him a good and true man. He was not at all sectarian or prejudiced in his views, but he opened his heart to divine influence, and poured out himself in labors for souls like a man in earnest. Day after day he would sit in the vestry of his church, and converse with inquirers who were invited to visit him, and direct them to Christ. His time was almost entirely taken up with this work for many days. His church was at the time one of the few close communion churches in England, as nearly all the Baptists in England are open-communionists. After the number of conversions had become large, the church began to examine converts for admission. They examined a large number, and were about to hold a communion. I preached in the morning, and they were to hold their communion in the afternoon. When the morning service was closed, Brother Roe requested the church to remain for a few moments. I and my dear wife, who had entered very warmly into the work, and exerted herself among the ladies of the congregation to her utmost, retired after the morning service, and went to our lodgings at Mr. Roe's, where we were guests. Bye and bye Brother Roe came home, and came smiling into our room, saying, "What do you think our church have done?" I replied I did not know, for really it had not occurred to me to raise the inquiry what they were going to do when they were requested to stay. He replied, "They have voted unanimously to invite you and Mrs. Finney to our communion this afternoon." Their close communion was more than they could swallow on such an occasion as that. However, on reflecting on it my wife and I concluded that we had better not accept their invitation, lest they had taken the vote under a pressure that might create some reaction and regret among them afterwards; and as we were really fatigued, we excused ourselves, and remained at home that afternoon.
As I had to preach again in the evening, I was glad to have the rest. I soon accepted the invitations of the ministers to labor in their several pulpits. The congregations were everywhere crowded and packed; a great interest was excited; and the numbers that would crowd into the vestries after preaching under an invitation for inquirers to take that room, was large. Their largest vestries would be packed with inquirers, whenever a call was made to resort thither for instruction. As to means, I used the same there that I had done in this country. Preaching, prayer, conversation, and meetings of inquiry were the means used. But I soon found that Brother James was receiving letters from various quarters, warning him against the influence of my labors. He informed me of this, and of what had been written and said to him on this subject. He had acquaintances on this side of the Atlantic, and some of them, as I understood him, had written him letters warning him against my influence. Besides, from various parts of his own country the same pressure was made upon him. He was very frank with me, and told me how the matter stood, and I was as frank with him. I said to him: "Brother James, your responsibility is great. I am aware that your influence is great, and these letters show both your influence and your responsibility in regard to these labors. You are led to think that I am heretical in my views. You hear my preaching every night, and whenever I preach; and you know whether I preach the Gospel or not."
I had taken with me my two published volumes of Systematic Theology. I said to him, "Have you heard me preach anything that is not Gospel?" He said, "No, not anything at all." "Well," said I, "now I have my Systematic Theology which I teach to my classes at home, and which I everywhere preach; and I want you to take and read it." He was very earnest to do so. I soon saw that there was a very venerable looking gentleman with him from evening to evening at our meetings. They would attend meeting together; and when I called for inquirers they would go in and stand where they could get a place, and hear all that was said. Who this venerable gentleman was I was not aware. For several nights in succession they came in this way, but Mr. James did not introduce me to the person that was with him, nor come near to speak with me at those meetings.
After things had gone on in this way for a week or two, Brother James and his venerable friend called at our lodgings. He introduced me to Dr. Redford, informing me at the same time that he was one of their most prominent theologians. That he had more confidence in Dr. Redford's theological acumen than he had in his own; and that he had requested him to visit Birmingham, attend the meetings, and especially to unite with him in reading my Theology. He said they had been reading it from day to day, and Dr. Redford would like to have some conversation with me on certain points of theology. We conversed very freely on all the questions to which Dr. Redford wished to call my attention, and Dr. Redford said very frankly, "Brother James, I see no reason for regarding Mr. Finney in any respect as unsound. He has his own way of stating theological propositions; but I cannot see that he differs, on any essential point, from us."
They had with them a little manual prepared by the Congregational Union of England and Wales, in which was found a brief statement of their theological views. They read to me certain portions of this manual, and in my turn I questioned them. I heard their explanations, and was satisfied there was a substantial agreement between us. Dr. Redford remained for some time longer at Birmingham. He then went home, and with my consent took with him my Systematic Theology, and said he would read it carefully through, and then write to me his views respecting it. I observed that he was indeed at home in theology, was a scholar and a Christian, and a thoroughly educated theologian. I was therefore more than willing to have him criticize my Theology, that if there was anything that needed to be retracted or amended, he might point it out. I requested him to do so thoroughly and frankly, and he said he would. He took it home, gave himself up to a thorough examination of it, and read the volumes patiently and critically through. I then received a letter from him, expressing his strong approbation of my theological views, saying there were a few points upon which he would like to make some inquiries, and he wished me, as soon as I could get away from Birmingham, to come and preach for him. I continued in Birmingham, I think, about three months. There were a great many interesting conversions in that city, and yet the ministers were not then prepared to commit themselves heartily to the use of the necessary means to spread the revival universally over the city.
I might mention a great many very interesting cases that occurred at Birmingham. There was one of so interesting a character that I will call attention to it. I suppose it is generally known in this country that Unitarianism in England was first developed and promulgated in Birmingham. That was the home of old Dr. Priestly, who was one of the principal, if not one of the first Unitarian ministers in England. His congregation I found still in existence in Birmingham, presided over by a pastor. One evening before I left Birmingham I preached on this text: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost." I dwelt first upon the divinity and personality of the Holy Ghost. I then pointed out many ways in which men could and did strive with Him. That His work was to teach and convince men of sin, and to teach them in regard to their duty, to plead the cause and claims of God with sinners and with all classes of men. I endeavored to show in how many ways, and on how many points, men resisted the divine teaching. That when convinced by the Holy Spirit, they would still persist in taking their own course; and that in all such cases they were resisting the Holy Spirit. The Lord gave me liberty that night to preach a very searching discourse. My object was to show them, that while they were pleading their dependence on the Holy Spirit they were constantly resisting Him. I found in Birmingham, as I did everywhere in England, that the greatest stress was laid upon the influence of the Holy Spirit. But I nowhere found any clear discrimination between a physical influence of the Spirit, exerted directly upon the soul itself, and that moral, persuasive influence which He in fact exerts over the minds of men. The people of England were very jealous lest the Holy Spirit should be dishonored, and His influence overlooked. But l found there, as I had done in this country, a great want of discrimination in regard to the manner of His influence. Consequently I found it frequently necessary to call the attention of the people to the work in which the Holy Spirit was really engaged, to explain to them the express teachings of Christ upon this subject; and thus to lead them to see that they were not to wait for a physical influence, but to give themselves up to His persuasive influence, and obey His teachings. This was the object of my discourse that evening. After I arrived at our quarters, a lady who was present at the meeting, and who came into the family where we were guests, remarked that she observed the Unitarian minister present in the congregation. I remarked that that must have sounded strangely in the ears of a Unitarian. She replied she hoped it would do him good. Not long after this and when I was laboring in London I received a letter from this minister giving an account of the great change wrought in his religious experience by means of that sermon. I copy this letter verbatim as follows.
"Stratford upon Avon Warwickshire, Aug. 16th 1850.
Rev. and dear Sir. Learning from the Banner that you are about to take your departure from England I feel it would be somewhat ungrateful if I allow you to go without expressing the obligation I am conscious of being under to you for the benefit I received from a sermon of yours preached in Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham. I think it was the last sermon you preached there, and was on resisting the Holy Spirit, but I have never been able to find the text. Indeed in the interest of the points that most concerned me I thought no more about the text for two or three days after. In order that you may understand the benefit I received from the sermon it is necessary that I should recount briefly my peculiar position at the time.
I was educated at one of our dissenting colleges for the ministry among the Independents. I entered upon the ministry and continued to exercise it about seven years. During that time I gradually underwent a great change in my theological views. The change was produced, I think, partly by philosophical speculations and partly in the deterioration that had taken place in my spiritual condition. I would say with deepest sorrow my piety never recovered the tone it lost in my passage through college. I attribute all my sorrows principally to this. My speculations led me without ever having even read Dr. Williams' book on Divine Sovereignty and Equity to adopt fundamentally his views. The reading of his book fully perfected my system. Sin is a defect arising out of the necessary defectability of a creature when unsupplied with the grace of God. The fall of man therefore, expresses nothing but the inevitably original imperfection of the human race. The great end of God's moral government is to correct this imperfection by education, revelation, etc., and to ultimately perfect man's condition. I had already and long previously adopted Dr. Jenkyn's views of spiritual influence. Under the guidance of such principles you will understand without my explaining how sin became a mere misfortune temporarily permitted, or rather a necessary evil to be remedied by infinite wisdom and goodness. How eternal punishment became a cruelty not for one moment to be thought of in the dispensations of a good being--and how the Atonement became a perfect absurdity founded upon unphilosophical views of sin. I became thoroughly Unitarian and in the beginning of the year 1848 I professed my Unitarianism and became minister of a church in Birmingham.
The tendencies of my mind however were fortunately too logical for me long to be able to rest in Unitarianism. I pushed my conclusions to simple deism and then found they must go still further. For this I was not prepared. My whole soul started back in horror. I reviewed my principles. A revolution took place in my whole system of philosophy. The doctrine of responsibility was restored to me in its most strict and literal sense, and with it a deep consciousness of sin. I need not enter into minute details with reference to my struggles and mental sufferings. About two weeks before I heard you, I saw clearly I must some day or the other readopt the evangelical system. I never had doubted it was the system of the Bible. I became Unitarian upon purely rationalistic grounds. But now I found I must accept the Bible or perish in darkness. You may imagine the agonies of spirit I had to endure. On the one hand were convictions becoming stronger every day, the sense of sin and the need of Christ obtaining a firmer hold over my heart--and the miserable condition of withholding the truth I knew from the people looking up to me for instruction. On the other hand if I professed myself, I, instantly, in the sight of all parties (especially with that great majority having no sympathy with such struggles) ruined my character by my apparent fickleness, and threw myself, my wife and children (we were looking forward to the birth of the sixth) upon the world. I could not make up my mind to this alternative. I had resolved to wait--gradually to prepare people's minds for the change--and by exercising a more rigid economy for some months to make provision for our temporal wants during the period of transition.
In this state of mind I heard your sermon. You will recollect it and easily comprehend the effect it produced. I felt the truth of your arguments--your appeals came home irresistibly to my heart--and that night on my way home I vowed before God, come what would, I would at once consecrate myself afresh to that Saviour whose blood I had so recently learned to value, and whose name I had done so much to dishonor. The result is, through the kind influence of Mr. James I have lately become the minister of the church in this town. The peace of mind I now enjoy does indeed surpass all understanding. I never before found such an absorbing pleasure in the work of the ministry. I enter fully into the significance of what Paul says, "If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creature." I can not tell you therefore with how many feelings of gratitude your name will be associated in my soul. I bless God for the kind providence that brought you to Birmingham. It seems to me now more than probable, had I not heard you my newly awakened religious life would soon have been destroyed by continued resistance to my deep convictions. My conscience would again have become hardened--and I should have died in my sins. Through the grace of God I shall trace up to you any usefulness God may hereafter crown my labors with.
I should have told you all this before but I thought my history might then in some way become public and that I shrink from all idea of. Your return to America guards me from this and I feel it would be unjust to withhold from you the knowledge of this fruit of your labors.
May God of His infinite mercy and grace grant you a long life of even greater usefulness than He has yet blessed you with will be the constant prayer of
Yours very truly,
When I received this letter I was laboring with Rev. John Campbell D.D. in the old Tabernacle of Whitfield in London. I handed it to him to read. He read it over with manifestly deep emotion and then exclaimed "There! that is worth coming to England for."
I have said that at the time of my short stay in Birmingham the ministers of the dissenting churches were not prepared to commit themselves to the work of promoting a general revival of religion which should morally renovate the whole city as we have seen revivals sweep through and renovate our American towns and cities from time to time. I must mention the reason. When the report of our great revivals from 1825 and onward reached England, Scotland, and Wales, a Spirit of enquiry was awakened and when my Lectures on Revivals were published, they were soon stereotyped in England, and soon after translated into the Welch and French languages. As I was soon informed by letters, the publication and circulation of those lectures almost immediately inaugurated a revival movement in that country. I have said that Rev. John Angel James one of the most influential of the dissenting ministers wrote a commendatory preface to those lectures. But as soon as the opposers of the revivals in this country learned of the influence those lectures were producing in England they took steps to counteract their influence. They assured Mr. James that those revivals in this country of which those lectures were the outcome had turned out disastrously to the churches, and made such representations as to induce Mr. James to recall his commendation of the lectures. Some of the opposers from this country, Mr. Nettleton amongst others, visited England and Scotland it would seem for the purpose of counteracting the influence of those lectures. Their testimony regarding the revivals in this country that were connected with my labors was such as to frighten the good brethren on that side of the ocean out of the revival movement that had been so hopefully inaugurated. Thousands had in the meantime been converted. Before I visited that country, the revival effort had ceased and the brethren were under the impression that those great and glorious revivals in this country had been rather a curse than a blessing to the churches.
I had left New York City and come to Oberlin. They heard no more of me through my lectures reported for the New York Evangelist, and finally it had been reported in that country that I had become a heretic and then an infidel. These things I learned with amazement when I arrived in England in 1848. I do not know how extensively these reports of heresy and infidelity were believed in England, but the reports of the evil results of those revivals in this country had been wide-spread and generally credited in that country. Hence the trepidation and fear that possessed the minds of the best men in Europe in regard to committing themselves to far reaching efforts to promote a general revival of religion in England in connection with my labors. I did the best I could under the circumstances and have no doubt of the integrity of the brethren on that side who hesitated to embark with me in an effort on a large scale to promote a wide-spread and thorough revival throughout protestant Europe. I have never doubted that had it not been for the misrepresentations from opposers on this side of the Atlantic a most sweeping, far reaching and powerful revival would at that time have swept not only over Birmingham, but also over all England, Wales, and Scotland.
From Birmingham I went to Worcester, I think about the middle of March, to labor with Dr. Redford. I have said that he had my Systematic Theology, had read it through, and had written to me that he wished to have some conversation with me on certain points. I had taken with me from home my reply to the criticisms of Dr. Hodge of Princeton, and also my reply to Dr. Duffield; and my reply to the presbytery of Troy was, I think, at that time embodied in the work itself. I handed Dr. Redford, on my arrival, the pamphlets containing these replies. He read them through, and then called on me and said: "Those replies have cleared up all the questions on which I wished to converse; therefore I am fully satisfied that you are right." After that he in no instance, that I recollect, ever made a criticism upon any part of my theology. Those who have seen the English edition of that work, are aware that he wrote a preface to it, in which he commended it to the Christian public. At the time l refer to, when he had read through my replies to those reviews, he expressed a strong desire that the work should be immediately published in England, and said that he thought the work was greatly needed there, and would do great good. His opinion had great weight in England upon theological questions. Dr. Campbell, I remember, affirmed in his newspaper that Dr. Redford was the greatest theologian in Europe. I remained in Worcester several weeks and preached for Dr. Redford, and also for a Baptist congregation in that city. There were many very interesting conversions in that city, and for the time that I spent there the work was very powerful and interesting indeed.
Some wealthy gentlemen in Worcester laid before me a proposition to this effect: They proposed to erect a movable tabernacle, or house of worship; one that could be taken down and transported from place to place upon the railway and at slight expense, and set up again with all its seats and all the paraphernalia of a house of worship. They proposed to build it one hundred and fifty feet square, with seats so constructed as to hold five or six thousand people. They said if I would consent to use it, and preach in it from place to place as circumstances might demand for six months, they would be at the expense of building it. But on consulting the ministers at that place they advised me not to do it. They thought it would be more useful for me to occupy the pulpits in the already established congregations in different parts of England, than to go through England preaching in an independent way such as was proposed by those gentlemen. As I had reason to believe the ministers generally would disapprove of a course then so novel, I declined to pledge myself to occupy it. I have since thought that I probably made a mistake. For when I came to be acquainted with the congregations and places of public worship of the Independent churches, I found them generally so small, so badly ventilated, so located, and so much in a straight-jacket in many respects, so hedged in and circumscribed by the Church--I mean, of course, the established Church--that it has always since I refused to accept that proposition appeared to me doubtful whether I was right; as I have been of opinion that I could upon the whole have accomplished much greater good in England by having carried, as it were, my own place of worship with me--have gone where I pleased, and secured the attendance of the masses irrespective of denominations altogether. I have no doubt that throngs would have attended everywhere; greater than could possibly have got within such a building; and if my strength were now as it was then, I should be strongly inclined to visit England again, and try an experiment of that kind.
Dr. Redford was greatly affected by the work in Worcester, and at the May anniversaries in London he addressed the Congregational Union of England and Wales and gave a very interesting account of this work. I attended those May meetings and was about to enter upon labor with Dr. John Campbell who was a successor of Whitfield, and was pastor of the church at the Tabernacle in Finsbury, London, and also of the Tottenham Court Road Chapel. These chapels were both in London, and about three miles apart. They were built for, and occupied for years by Mr. Whitfield. Dr. Campbell was also at that time editor of the British Banner, the Christian Witness, and of one or two other magazines. His voice was such that he did not preach, but gave his time to the editing of those papers. He lived in the house in which Whitfield resided, which was the parsonage, and used the same library, I believe, that Whitfield had used. Whitfield's portrait hung up in his study in the Tabernacle. The savor of his name was still there; yet I must say that the spirit that had been upon him was not very apparent in the church at that place at the time I went there. I said that Dr. Campbell did not preach. He still held the pastorate, resided in the parsonage, and drew the salary, but he supplied his pulpit by employing for a few weeks at a time, the most popular ministers that could be employed, to preach to his people. I began my labors there early in May. Those who are acquainted with the workings of such a constant change in the ministry as they had had at the Tabernacle for years, would not expect religion in the church to be in a flourishing condition.
Dr. Campbell's house of worship was of course large. It was compactly seated, and could accommodate full three thousand persons. A friend of mine took particular pains to ascertain which would hold the greatest number of people, the Tabernacle in Moorfields or Finsbury, or the great Exeter Hall, of which every body has heard. It was ascertained that the Tabernacle would seat some hundreds more than Exeter Hall.
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